Helping Your High Schooler Transition to College


Whether your child is approaching legal adulthood or still has several years to go, if you told me that you hadn’t once thought about college or their adult years, I’d be pretty darn skeptical. I don’t know the first time that I thought about it for my own kids, who haven’t even reached their teens yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it crossed my mind before they were even born. Certainly, I thought about it by the time I was looking into preschools for my oldest. In fact, I remember doubting one preschool option for him when he was just three based on whether or not it would have the right level of academic rigor to get him into college. Yes, I really did have that thought for my then three-year-old (I chose that school, ultimately, and I have no regrets!) and I’ve heard the same from other parents.

It seems to plague many of us parents— the worry about the launch into college and/or the beyond. Maybe some of us would even go so far as to say that that worry has impacted many of our parenting decisions. It’s true that there’s some upfront work that we can do as parents to support our kids in really thriving and not just surviving when they get to that milestone. Dr. Kacey Greening spent several years working primarily in college counseling centers and with college-age young adults. During those years, Dr. Greening saw where young adults sometimes bungled in some areas of transitioning to college. She often wished she could reverse time and act more preventatively with this young person and their family. Now, Dr. Greening is doing just that in her clinical work and shares her top tips with us!


4 Tips for a Successful Launch to College:

  1. Find a Good Fit
    One of the kindest things you can do for your teen is to help them find a college that has the potential to be a good fit for them. College is a broad term that includes large universities, small community colleges, two year degrees, four year degrees, certification programs, and vocational/technical careers. Being open to all the possibilities gives you and your teen the opportunity to harness your teen’s strengths and interests. While it can sometimes seem like there’s only one path to success and fulfillment, many paths could lead your teen to a viable career. It’s also helpful to keep in mind that your teen can make a change if a change is needed.
  2. Give Them Wings to Fly
    While there is often a focus on getting your teen into a particular college, it is just as important to teach your teen not only how to survive but to thrive once they’re in college. Being a college student typically comes with a higher degree of independence, and it’s much easier if your teen is already practicing important life skills. Does your teen know the value of money? Do they know how to budget? Can they do a load of laundry or make a grilled cheese sandwich? Do they know how to talk to a teacher about a grade or an assignment? As understandable as it is to want to protect your teen or do things for your teen, encouraging your teen to take responsibility for themselves will be an invaluable tool for success in college.
  3. Talk About Risky Situations
    For many families it can sometimes feel awkward when discussing sex, alcohol, drugs, and other potentially risky situations. These topics are not the easiest to broach. However, they are very important and could really save your teen from a lot of pain and heartache. While you’ve probably already discussed family values around these issues and encouraged them to make safe choices, it doesn’t hurt to remind your teen again as they head off to college. It might give you more credibility with your teen if you share some of your own experiences and lessons you’ve learned if you let them know you’re talking to them about it because you care and want them to be healthy and happy. Never underestimate the value of letting your teen know that you’re there for them no matter what. Be willing to handle tough situations in a calm and collected manner that prioritizes listening over lecturing.
  4. Be Kind to Yourself
    Seeing your teen off to college is often a big transition for you both. While it can be a wonderful new chapter in both of your lives, there can be some tough moments spent missing them, worrying about their leap into adulthood, and redesigning your life and priorities. It’s so important for parents to take care of themselves during this transition. Think about what would bring a sense of joy or peace into your life? Maybe calling a friend for a nice dinner or a cup of coffee? Connecting with nature or taking an exercise class? Relying on your sense of humor or cultivating a hobby?

Join Dr. Kacey Greening for more discussion at a Parents’ Heart-To-Heart– Spreading Their Wings: Helping your high schooler transition to college on September 18 at 7pm.

At Intuition Wellness Center we specialize in integrated behavioral health services and wellness programs for children, young adults and families and supporting other like-minded professionals in doing good work. We offer parent education seminars, wellness classes and other supportive services. If you think you would like some extra support, call us. Call 520-333-3320 for a free phone consultation.

Written By: Dr. Kacey Greening, Clinical Psychologist, and Dr. Brandy Baker, Co-Founder and Clinical & Training Director,  at Intuition Wellness Center

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